Criminal Justice

Zoloft Defense Loses in S.C.

The South Carolina Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction of a youth who claimed he was involuntarily intoxicated by antidepressants when he shot his grandparents.

Christopher Pittman was sentenced to 30 years in prison for shooting his grandparents while they slept and then setting fire to their home. He was only 12 at the time.

Pittman claimed he didn’t know right from wrong at the time of the shootings because he was taking Zoloft, the Herald reports. On appeal, his attorneys argued the trial judge used the wrong standard to determine mental capacity to commit the crime.

In its ruling yesterday, the court said lay testimony by investigators and hunters who found the boy in the woods after the shooting was permissible to prove he had the mental capacity to commit the crime. Pittman was clear and calm, the witnesses said.

The court said the court properly determined the boy’s criminal capacity using the M’Naughten test, which considers a defendant to be insane if he cannot distinguish moral or legal right from wrong.

The court also said the Eighth Amendment does not prohibit a 30-year sentence for a crime committed by a 12-year-old.

A dissent said the jury should have been allowed to consider whether a paddling the boy received constituted sufficient provocation to merit a conviction for voluntary manslaughter rather than murder. It also said an “interested adult” should have been present at Pittman’s interrogation.

Paul Waldner, one of Pittman’s attorneys, told the Herald he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

“Obviously, the decision is a setback for us, but our resolve to continue to try to obtain justice for this boy who committed the only violent act of his life only days after he was given a mind-altering drug is strong,” he said.

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